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We were young and strong and fleet of foot, hardmuscled, tired, caked with mud, taped at wrist and ankle, wanting only to remove what reminded us of practice and slip into the hot showers to scald off the filth. Whatever pride we had was left on the wet brown field, where after too many drills and too many sprints we were quietly retching with exhaustion.

The hard locker room floor was littered with oozy clumps of mud and grass. No one said much. It was all we could do to pull off our helmets, uncinch our pads, bend over and untie the cleated shoes with clumsy fingers too cold to unlace them. There were no differences among us. We were all cold and sore, with ribs that ached and hands that sought only warmth. And so it seemed, until our best running back took off his uniform.

When we saw the veins on his abs, we all stopped and stared. It was as if Apollo was in our midst, there, stripping off his pads and jersey. Our bodies were muscled and tough, of course, in the normal manner of athletes shaped by constant drill. But he was extraordinary. His neck muscles were strong as a thoroughbred's. His calf muscles were iron bundles interlaced with a webbed network of surface blood vessels. We'd never seen anything like it. In the classless herd that was that locker room, we knew that a god walked among us.

Years later, I saw Michelangelo's David. I looked at it, and remembered thinking, yes, I knew someone like that.

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